When Pulitzer-Prize-winning Harvard Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “well-behaved women seldom make history,” she hit the nail squarely on the head. Ulrich knew that for women to be heard in a male-dominated world, they had to make some noise. Enter Megan Wilson, a tough-as-nails yet sweet-as-pie tattoo artist born and bred in the Bay. If Megan had been a rule follower, the universe might not have had the chance to see her truly shine. Luckily for the tattooed masses (and any art enthusiasts, really) Miss Megan was a regular rabble-rouser and followed her wild, creative heart all the way into adulthood.
You know what “they” say about tattoos being addictive? Well, “they” might not be so wrong. See, Megan began getting tattooed at the ripe, young age of 15 (don’t tell her parents) and she was instantly hooked. She began hoarding tattoo magazines and copying the images by hand, drawing like a madwoman, absorbing as much as she could on her own. She knew she loved this art form and did everything she could to immerse herself in the culture. By the time she was 18 she was getting tattooed regularly in San Francisco but was still a bit too shy about asking for an apprenticeship. At 19, a Bay Area tattoo shop had taken her on as a ‘shop girl’– you know the gal who schedules appointments, sets up the artists’ stations, etc. — and within two years they put a tattoo machine in her hands. There was no looking back, ever.
Megan absorbed everything she could from her co-workers and spent her nights, as she still does, drawing, drawing, drawing. By 22 she had become a burgeoning tattoo artist motivated by the knowledge that this was her true path. Her talent has afforded her the opportunity to participate in tattoo conventions and guest spots at shops around the world.
Tattooing tends to be a male dominated field but you wouldn’t know it by following Megan’s career. She’s been surrounded by support and positivity. Her diligence, drive and raw talent have gotten her to where she is today. In other words, she doesn’t tattoo well in spite of being a girl; she tattoos well and is a girl. She inspires me. So I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions while she slid an ink soaked tattoo gun across my bicep.
Where did you grow up? What kind of stuff were you into as a kid/teenager and why did you start getting tattooed?
I grew up around Northern California and in the Bay Area. I was always attracted to art, through my mom. We were either getting into ceramics or sewing, painting or drawing. There was always art around the house.
As a teenager I got into punk rock; Dead Kennedys, Cock Sparrer and the Misfits were some of the first bands I really got into on my own. I would go to local punk shows and the older kids had tattoos. They looked tough, mysterious and part of a world I had never connected to, so I wanted in. When I was 15 I heard of a guy that wouldn’t ID you. He was tattooing kids at my high school. They were all getting stupid shit. I drew up a jack-o-lantern, brought it to him and he tattooed it on me. I was forever changed. I knew I wanted to tattoo immediately after that. I thought it would be the perfect way to escape the typical American life that I wanted no part of. I wanted to travel, make art and separate myself from the ordinary. So I decided I wanted to tattoo.
What was your first experience tattooing like?
My first experience was horrifying. I wasn’t ready or prepared at all. I couldn’t stop shaking I was so nervous. I tattooed a girl I had grown up with. I had no idea how difficult it was going to be. I’ll be honest, it was a rough start. I ended up in tears in the back of the shop. I will say that the girl I tattooed is coming to get tattooed by me again for the first time since I tattooed her so many years ago. So it must not have ruined her life.
Who inspires you and why?
My co-workers. I work with an amazing group of men. Matt Shamah is my tattooer and I feel like a lot of my work is directly inspired by him. He helped me get hired at Analog; he changed my life path. Adrian Lee, Jim Miner, Ron Earhart and André Malcom are the other guys I work with, their dedication, passion and talent all drive me forward. I aspire to be as good as them. To dedicate myself so lovingly to my craft.
How has your tattooing style changed or evolved since you first became a tattoo artist? How do you want it to continue to evolve?
I think I’ve always focused on traditional tattooing. I love all types of tattooing, but since I started it’s always been traditional that I’ve been drawn to. It took me a few years to get a style and direction going and I feel it continually evolving. I like working with a limited color palette, with strong lines and lots of black. I’d like to continue forward into doing larger scale tattoos. Traditional tattoos can be very stiff –which looks awesome!– but I want to incorporate that traditional feel into larger work with movement and interest as it covers the body.
How is where you tattoo now different from the other shops?
Our shop is owned by Adrian Lee: his ideas and tattooing are so inspiring and differ greatly from what so many other tattooers are doing. He’s traveled the world to create books depicting the world’s best tattooers. He’s created a legacy with his tattooing. I think it’s clear when you come to our shop it’s special, unlike any other shop. There is a focus on large scale tattooing, sleeves, back pieces, bodysuits. The relationship between tattooers and clients is very intimate. We love the people we tattoo; there’s a relationship with trust there. We help our clients push forward to get the best tattoos possible. Helping people step out of their comfort zone and get something truly amazing.
I’m not sure how people conceive us. I feel like I don’t know what life outside of this is like. I don’t know what the rest of the world thinks of me and other tattooers. What I know is that tattooers are some if the most passionate, dedicated, and interesting people I know.
What’s in the future for Megan? What’s your biggest career goal or dream?
I plan to work for Analog Tattoo Arts Kolectiv for now…probably until I retire. I couldn’t imagine myself at a better shop. I hope to travel and tattoo more often and I just hope to grow as an artist. I want to continue to get better, everyday, every month, every year.
With her passion, perseverance, and artistic prowess it seems Megan has nowhere to go but up.
All photos courtesy of Megan Wilson